(Turn and face the strain)
Don’t want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strain)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
In December of 2009, I wrote, “Changes, part one.” It was about how I met my wife through eHarmony and my reaction to their questionnaire’s questions about children. I didn’t want children but I fudged the truth a bit to leave the possibility open. It was only a small fudge because part of me did want children but I hoped to be a better person before allowing that to happen.
In March of 2010, I wrote, “Changes, part two.” This one was about my relationship with my father. I meant for it to explain why I felt inadequate to be a parent. Admittedly, this turned into a long, deeply personal, self-serving, rant that revealed many unresolved issues I had with my father. Even though this one did veer away from the point, it was very therapeutic and I don’t regret writing it. I also believe it still made its point; I was afraid of becoming my father and doing to a child what was done to me.
Rebecca’s picture from eHarmony
I ended “Changes, part two” with the first moment my wife-to-be seriously asked the question about having children. She wanted to try. Did I? The words caught in my throat. I knew I should say no. That would be the responsible and sensible thing to do but a part of me wanted to say yes too. I was also planning to propose and was afraid of screwing it up. So I said we could think about it. Rebecca accepted this but I could tell she was disappointed. Despite my fear, I did ask the question, what if I didn’t want children? Would she look for someone else? She said no, she loved me and if we didn’t have a child then that’s the way it was meant to be. I was touched but I didn’t quite believe her. Not because I had any reason to doubt her but because I have always had a hard time believing this stunningly beautiful woman would choose me in the first place.
Rebecca has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and always assumed she would be unable to get pregnant. For most of her life, she had put the though out of her mind. Then, about two years before we met, Rebecca did get pregnant with her previous companion. It was a total shock to her. She miscarried the baby at 8 weeks but the experience made a profound changed her thoughts about children. She wanted to be a mom.
Wearing the ring
On August 21st of 2007, I proposed to Rebecca. I bought a nice ring and took her to the Hotel St. Germain in Dallas under the guise of celebrating her birthday. The waiter brought the ring to the table in an elaborate display. I asked if she would share her life with me without fumbling my words. My timing and delivery were perfect – if I do say so myself. Don’t ask me what I said, that’s all a blur. I just remember the look in her eyes when she realized what I was asking. And I remember her saying “yes.” It was one of the happiest days of my life. We set out planning the wedding. Then, a couple of months before, Rebecca brought up children again. She wanted to start trying after our honeymoon. I had convinced myself that we were still in the “thinking about trying or not trying” stage but she had jumped ahead of me. I was conflicted, I liked the idea of fatherhood but I still thought it was irresponsible to allow my father’s offspring to continue the line. Then I thought, I’m not my father and our child wouldn’t be me. I realized that I couldn’t honestly answer the question of what kind of father I would be and it wasn’t fair to just assume the worst. However, it was also not fair to take that kind of chance with a child’s life. My mind went back and forth with this and ultimately I decided to let the Fates decide, as they always have. I’m not an overly Religious person but I do have a sense that things will work out as they must. I can do my part but ultimately I have to adapt to the curves in my life. The image of the mythological Fates, the three sisters of the Weird, the Maiden, Mother, and Crone deciding our lives with a ball of yarn and scissors, seems as appropriate representation of my beliefs as any. I agreed we’d try for children and I left the decision of my fatherhood in those three lovely lady’s hands.
Rebecca and I were married on August 21st 2008. It was a beautiful ceremony in the botanical gardens of Zilker Park in Austin. In late January of 2009, we went on our honeymoon to Switzerland, Venice (for Carnevale), Amsterdam, and Paris. It was a fantastic time. About a month after we came home, we started talking to a fertility doctor.
Because of Rebecca’s PCOS, we knew we would need help getting pregnant. The doctor put her on a round of Clomid to induce ovulation. We went through the cycle but nothing happened. Rebecca was disappointed but we knew it was just the first step. For myself, I felt very detached from the whole process. I was waiting to see what the fates would decide. During this time, I was also given a semen analysis – not as fun a test as one might think – and it was found that my swimmers were a little slow and not too bright. Probably the product of my age but they weren’t sure. The problem wasn’t bad enough to negate us ever getting pregnant but it did mean we would have to be more aggressive. We were referred to a fertility specialist, named Dr. Shahryar Kavoussi. He suggested a method called IUI. This is a process where the sperm is collected and “washed” to remove the duds and keep only the best swimmers. Then the sperm is injected into the cervix, bypassing a large portion of the gauntlet a sperm has to survive in order to fertilize the egg. I felt this was cheating. Maybe the Fates had already given us our answer. We were not supposed to have children and we were just using technology to force the issue. I didn’t voice this opinion and, ultimately, I think it was just my fear talking. Using Clomid didn’t bother me because, deep down, I knew it would probably never work. I agreed to try IUI but I still didn’t believe we would ever get pregnant.
Prior to trying IUI, Rebecca first had to grow eggs for fertilization. To do this, she took a series of injections that stimulate egg production. Dr. Kavoussi wanted to monitor her closely during this process. If she created too many eggs, then there was a possibility of multiple babies. The goal was a single baby. Twins was acceptable, triplets was pushing it, but any more than that is really considered malpractice. There was also a chance for her to become hyper stimulated and her ovaries and fallopian tubes could twist – very bad.
With the first round of IUI she did become hyper stimulated, not enough to be dangerous but she was in a lot of pain. One night, when the pain was at its worse, she came out of the bathroom and said she hoped this worked because she didn’t know if she could go through another round. Right up until she said that, I had felt totally detached from the process and maybe even a little hopeful it wouldn’t take. I should have been happy with what she said. Instead, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t talk. Did she mean it? Was this it? If she quit now, we would never have a child. And, to my total amazement, I didn’t want that. Tears welled in my eyes and I asked her if she was serious. She said partially, but admitted it was probably just the pain talking. I was relieved.
What happened to me? In one moment, my whole outlook seemed to change. I wanted to be a father. Can change happen that fast? Maybe, but I think it was an evolution I was too dumb to see. A gradual change that only became evident when there was the possibility of not having children.
It was around this time I first had the idea to write about our attempts to get pregnant. I thought it would help me understand this change and I liked the idea of our child (if we had one) reading about how his parents became parents. Unfortunately, I am a procrastinator and this didn’t get started.
We finished out that first round of IUI and nothing happened. We tried a second one. This time Dr. Kavoussi tried a more conservative approach so Rebecca wouldn’t feel as much pain and something happened. The pregnancy stick came back with the faintest of lines visible. It looked like we were pregnant. We were thrilled. I’m usually a somber fellow but I actually felt a little giddy. It turned out to be a false positive. Rebecca was very upset and so was I. Again, I was struck by how much it bothered me. That feeling of changed was there again only stronger.
I finally wrote the first installment of “Changes.” It was really just an introduction, a quick piece about who I was before I met Rebecca.
Believing we were pregnant only to find out it didn’t work, left us both disheartened. We looked into IVF – where they remove the egg, fertilize it, and then place it back, in hopes it will attach to the wall of the uterus. We were lucky, in that our insurance would cover IVF but we were unlucky because the clinic Kavoussi used did not accepted insurance. It’s a very expensive procedure and we couldn’t afford to pay for it ourselves. We would have to find a new fertility doctor and a different clinic. We really liked Dr. Kavoussi and didn’t want to change so we decided to try one more round of IUI.
With the third round, it seemed like something tried to happen again. Rebecca experienced some symptoms of pregnancy. We were cautious this time, tried to manage our excitement. Then one night, Rebecca had some bright red bleeding. We were worried and felt that something had tried to happen and then went wrong again. If so, it could mean the problem wasn’t getting the egg to fertilize but getting it to attach to the uterine wall. In this case, IVF wouldn’t be any more effective than IUI.
I wrote the second installment of “Changes” which, as I said, turned into a rant but was meant to illustrate how my horrible relationship with my father caused me to never want children. I was planning on writing the last installment, this installment, as soon as I was done with the second one. It would talk about our attempts to have a child and the odd change that occurred in me. As you can tell by the year hiatus between part two and this one, life got in the way.
In February of 2010 I became very ill and almost died. (You can read about it in “Hey Lazarus Man.”) I was hospitalized with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) for three weeks. I was in the ICU for a week, placed on a ventilator, and treated with extremely high doses of steroids – the only treatment for ARDS. I survived but spent the next three months recovering from the effects. Once I was back on my feet, our doctors told us the steroids could have affected my sperm count and jeopardize our ability to have a child. Sure enough, when I was tested, my count was lower but it was still strong enough that something could happen. It would just be harder than ever.
I wanted to keep trying, no mater what. I wanted to be a father.
Whatever change I had been going through, culminated with my illness. Facing your death changes your perspective. I was so appreciative of my family and my friends. I loved my wife so much more than I thought possible and I knew she would be a good mother. I also knew something else. I could be a good father too. I am like my father in so many ways but I am not him. I have met many of the same demons he faced and I have come through to a different place than he did. It was time to live outside the shadow of my childhood.
We decided to go with IVF. But while we were looking into that, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to try one more round of IUI. Neither Rebecca nor I had much hope of it working.
Tomorrow, February 23rd, at 7:30am, a year to the day I was taken off the ventilator at the hospital, Phoenix Griffin Minor will be born. My son. I know he’s my son because he’s stubborn and has refused to turn head down for delivery. He’s breech and my sweet Rebecca will have to have a Cesarean birth. This scares the hell out of me. At the same time, neither of us can wait to see the face of our boy, to hold him for the first time, to hear his first breath, and see his eyes open for the first time. We are prepared. We’ve packed a bag for our stay at the hospital, set up the crib and the car seat. Mostly, we are trying to keep busy but it’s not easy. It’s been a long nine months. We’ve watched our son develop since his first ultrasound at six weeks old when he as just a tiny mustard seed. Even at that early age, the tissue that would become his heart was beating. We’ve been with him through the genetic testing to look for conditions more common in babies of forty year old parents. We’ve waited for each milestone, his 8-week ultrasound, his twentieth ultrasound, and the first time Rebecca could feel him kick. We’ve attended the classes and tried to prepare ourselves as best we can. It’s been a long road but, now that his birth is only hours away, it seems like those nine months evaporated in the blink of an eye. When asked if I’m ready, I’ve always told people “no.” Because, no matter how much we think we are ready, we won’t be and we’ll just have to go with the flow. But now, in the last few longest days of the pregnancy, I have never felt more unprepared. Simply assembling a crib tent to keep the cats away from our baby seems like a massive engineering feat.
Phoenix is coming. It is just hours away.
We have everything in place for his arrival but we are not ready. I know this. I also know this is the right time for him to come into our lives. I needed to find someone as magical as Rebecca. I needed to confront my fears of becoming like my father. I needed the year of fertility treatments and disappointments. And I needed to get sick and almost die. Each link in the chain led to this greater moment of becoming a father. Each landmark of my life, joyous or tragic, facilitated the change in me. The Fates know what they are doing and I thank them. I also know the “change” isn’t over. In fact, I think it’s only just begun.
Dedicated to Phoenix Griffin Minor.I love you son.
It’s been a very busy month and it’s only going to get more stressful I fear, but I’ll talk more about that in another post. For now, I thought I’d follow up on our trip to the New Orleans Comic Con.
I haven’t been to a comic convention in about fifteen years and haven’t drawn a comic book for eleven of those years. So when Wizard’s World invited me to the New Orleans convention, my first thought was, “why?” However, I love New Orleans and wanted to go back so it was a perfect opportunity. The question was; what was I going to do for two days at a comic book show? I figured the only chance for those days to not be a total waste was if I did everything I could to let people know who I am and what I’ve done.
I’ve always been a horrible self-promoter. A perfect example is the first convention I “worked” as a professional, which, coincidently enough was when I lived in New Orleans. It was a small one in Baton Rouge and I drove in with a friend of mine. I found my table, unzipped my portfolio, and haphazardly laid out the pages I wanted to sell. It looked very unprofessional and, oddly, enough, no one came over to talk to me. In fact, they seemed to give my table a wide berth. My friend couldn’t take it and rearrange my table in a professional manner. He neatly laid out the pages for sale, organized by title. He placed my portfolio in the center and fished out a few copies of my published books and splayed them out in a semicircle. Amazingly, people started coming over. It was a lesson for me about presentation but it was also a lesson in not being embarrassed to put myself out there.
In recent years, with the explosion of social media, I’ve been experimenting with self-promotion. And I am still fighting embarrassment. It’s hard because part of me thinks it’s all self-serving, pretentious crap and the work should speak for itself. But the truth is, artists who hope to make a living off their work must be able to sell themselves, to convince editors, publishers, producers, and the public that they are worthy of interest. Your work can’t speak for itself if no one is listening. There are so many talented people out there, you have to be a little self-serving and pretentious to be seen. You do have to keep it balanced, however, or you’ll become all show and no substance. In other words, an asshole. Luckily, I’m surrounded by artists better than me so it keeps me somewhat grounded.
Working on a Turtle's sketch
For the New Orleans Con, I printed up two large posters. One was a collage of the different comics I’d done in the past so that people could easily see my published books. The second one was for Star Wars: The Old Republic, my current project. Our lead concept artist, Arnie Jorgensen – one of the “better artists” who keeps my ego in check – painted the SWTOR poster. I printed out screenshots from our game to display, brought some of my best original comic work to show and sell, and sold comp issues of books I’d worked on. I Tweeted, Facebooked, and Blogged as much as I could stand. I did whatever I could think of to let people know I was there. In the past, I’ve spent whole conventions staring at the wall – trust me, it sucks. If all this got a few people to show up, then it was worth it, if I made a little money to pay for the trip then so much the better.
My wife and I drove to New Orleans the night before the convention. The next morning we lugged a hundred pounds of comics and artwork to the convention center, over broken and craggy New Orleans streets – not fun. By the time we found the entrance, got our passes, and set up our table, I was dying. I barely had enough time to cool down before people started showing up.
Day one of the convention went surprisingly well. I had a steady flow of people, enough to make a bathroom break difficult. I sold a lot of comics and met a lot of people excited for Star Wars: The Old Republic. I did a couple of sketches and sold some of my original art. Towards the end of the day, as people were clearing out, Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol from “Battlestar Galactica”) came by my table. My wife and I both are big fans of “Battlestar Galactica” so it was a trip to meet “The Chief.” He was a cool guy and we chatted for a bit. Then he bought a copy of “Flashes of Fear” (the Halloween anthology I helped put together). Apparently, Aaron Douglas is also a fan of Star Wars: The Old Republic because he was wearing a SWTOR tee-shirt. Keisha Tillis from “The Walking Dead” also stopped by. She was sweet and “The Waking Dead” is another of my favorite shows – great comic too.
Day two was a little slower. I sold some more original pages, sketches, and comics. I met some really cool people. One nice surprise was how many became nostalgic when they saw the books I’d worked on. Like the woman who was there with her two kids but stopped when she saw “The Books of Magic” comics at my table. She had really loved that series and got a little sentimental when she saw them again. Her kids had never heard of “The Books of Magic” and were more interested in the “Spiderman vs. Punisher” book I did. Another girl actually got a little teary eyed when she saw that I had worked on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Apparently, the book meant a lot to her. Very few of these people knew who I was. I was just some anonymous artist to them. It was the stories and the art that had moved them. And I liked that. It made me proud to have been a small part of something that had such an impact on people.
By the end of the day, I got a chance to walk around, talk to a few people, and compare notes with other artist. I met Bill Sienkiewicz for the first time. He’s one of my favorite artists and a huge influence on me. I bought a sketch from him and talked shop for a bit. Just that short conversation with him was a huge motivation for me.
Overall, the convention was way more successful than I could have hoped and I had a good time. I didn’t make enough money to cover the whole trip but I did make enough to cover the cost of the Sienkiewicz sketch and pay for our meals in New Orleans, both of which were not cheep.
We spent our last day in New Orleans wandering around the French Quarter. We had beignets at Café Du Monde for breakfast and walked through Jackson Square. We checked out the apartment where I used to live on Conti Street and tried to find some of my old haunts. Unfortunately, almost all of them were gone. We tried to go to La Madeleine – one of the mainstays of the Quarter – for lunch. It was gone too. There was a new restaurant in its place so we ate there. The waiter told us that La Madeleine had closed up shop after Katrina, as had many of the restaurants in the Quarter, but new places were opening up. We walked around a bit more, checked out Bourbon Street and a few of the touristy places. For a break, we rode the streetcar to the Garden District and back. We stumbled upon a film crew shooting an episode of “Treme” and unknowingly walked through the set, past actor David Morse. We nearly wreaked their shot and got a few nasty looks.
Outside my old apartment on Conti Street.
That night we’d planned to go to the House of Blues for dinner but got pulled, almost against our will, into a tiny Italian place called Frank’s. This place was great. Frank himself took care of us. He was no joke – serious Italian and serious food. He told us that people were talking to him about a doing a reality show, so be on the look out. Oddly enough, there were also a couple of comic book collectors there. My wife and I spent the whole time eavesdropping on their conversation. I’ve met many collectors in my day but never any like these. They talked about dropping 200 grand for original art like it was nothing, and causally mentioned owning Fantastic Four number one. It was almost surreal, like Mallrats meets the Sopranos.
We called it a night and headed home the next day. It was a good time and it was nice to see New Orleans hosting such a large comic con. It was the first time a convention that size had been held in the city and the people were very happy to be there. I think it made the whole event seem a little more significant. Many of the people who came by my table were natives, they had lived through Katrina and put it behind them but it hung in the air. You could feel it. The storm did not kill New Orleans but the city is still recovering and figuring out what it will be in the future. It’s quieter than I remembered, different in a way that’s hard to describe. It just wasn’t the place where I used to live, more like that place’s twin brother
The “Gabriel Writer” has printed the 8th installment of “Chapter Play.” You can catch up on the whole story here: Chapter Play
I hope you enjoy it
Chapter VIII: In which the hero awakes to gunfire.
Moonlight gleaned from the tip of the dwarf’s 38 special. He bit down on his cigar and glared with his good eye. “She’s dead, Carl, and you’re next!” The gun’s blast lit up the dark office like a strobe light and Carl felt a bullet narrowly miss his cheek.
“Your daughter was dead when I got there, Lewis. Nothing I could do!” Carl inched closer to his desk where he kept a Walther PPK pistol.
“I don’t have a daughter, you idiot. It’s my fiancée who’s dead. You didn’t find her in time, just like you won’t find your daughter either!” The one-eyed dwarf fired again, the kickback almost toppled him. A lamp next to Carl blew apart. “And I’m not a dwarf for Christ sake! That’s only in your stupid book!” The dwarf grew taller; his legs straight, his fingers thinned out, and his forehead receded. He fired the gun twice more as Carl dove behind the desk.
That’s right, it was Lewis’s fiancée who died. This is a tragic love story, not a detective pulp. Carl thought to himself. How could I get that confused?
“It’s not a love story either, you sanctimonious prick! It’s my life!” Lewis screamed. “My beautiful Clair is dead. Your girlfriend, Katarina, will be next. You won’t save her or your daughter!” Lewis fired again and again. “Wake up, Carl. You can’t save anyone!” He blasted out the front window. “Wake up!” he fired again.
“Wake up!” Margo screams over the gunfire and breaking glass. “Damn it, Carl get up, we have to get out of here!”
Carl McGavin’s vision swims. The sound of Margo’s cries echo down a long tunnel in the center of his brain. Vincent yells for Margo to take cover as two more loud bangs pound into his skull. Vincent must be shooting but at whom?
The room is in shambles, the front window shattered, and bullet holes riddle the walls. Margo pulls him behind the bed. “Get down!” she yells as another volley blasts through the front door. Vincent, crouched next to the door, is covered in splinters. He springs up and blindly fires two shots out the window before taking cover again.
“What’s going on?” Carl tries to shake the hangover away.
“We were coming to wake you when they pulled up and just started shooting. Vince busted in your door and we barely made it inside. We didn’t even get a good look at them.” There is panic in Margo’s eyes. The gunfire starts again and she ducks her head screaming.
Carl scans the room. The table where he’d been drinking the night before was knocked over and his gun was on the far side of the room. He lunges for it, keeping low to duck the bullets flying over his head. He grabs the gun and checks the clip. Six rounds left, only the bullet he used to kill Matt Richards is missing. The shooting stops for a moment and Carl crawls over to Vincent.
“Where are they?”
“Blue Sonata, on the right, two of them.” Vincent says as he reloads his revolver. “This is the last of my ammo!”
“They’re waiting for us to run dry so they can finish us off.” Carl peeks out the broken window and sights the Blue Sonata.
“What do we do?” Vincent’s voice shakes.
“We charge.” Carl says. Vincent looks at him like he’s mad. “We drive straight at them and make every shot count.” Vincent looks at Margo for a moment. She cringes behind the bed in tears. He nods in agreement. Carl shouts to Margo, “Wait until you hear my call. Then grab my backpack and anything else you can carry and come running.”
“What if you don’t call?” Margo’s voice cracks. Carl’s expression is grim but he doesn’t answer.
“You go low, I’ll go high.” Carl says and Vincent nods again. “On three, 1…2…3!” Carl screams a blood-curdling cry, flings the motel door open, and charges out, keeping his body sideways to make a smaller target. He fires once and the windshield of the blue Sonata spider webs. One gunman breaks cover and fires. The bullet just misses Vincent as he dives to the ground, aiming for the second gunman’s feet under the Sonata. He lets off three rounds, striking the second gunman’s shin. Carl fires again and wings the first gunman’s right arm. Despite his wounded shin, the second gunman leaps up shooting. Vincent recognizes him and freezes, it’s officer Charlie Day. Carl pushes Vincent out of the way and fires back; a third shot that narrowly misses officer Day. The first gunman pushes Charlie into the Sonata’s passenger seat before taking the wheel. Their tires squeal in the parking lot and Vincent fires four more rounds into the car as it speeds away.
“That…was…” Vincent tries to say but he is too winded.
“I know.” Carl says. “Margo! Let go, now!” He yells. Margo runs from the motel room with Carl’s backpack stuffed full and the threesome climb into Vincent’s green Dodge. “Get us out of here fast. Head east on 29. We’re close to Buchanan Lake. There are some back roads on the other side of the lake were we can lay low for a while.” Vincent puts the car in gear and peels out of the parking lot onto TX-29.
“I can’t believe it, that was Charlie back there.” Vincent concentrates on the road. “I spoke to him last night. He said they traced some calls you made to New Orleans, Carl. They think you’re going there. Charlie said he was covering for me and asked if you were still dead! Acted like it was a joke. I told him we were in Burnet. He must have traced the call.”
“But why? Charlie let us go in Austin?” Margo cries.
“That’s because he thought I was already dead.” Carl says flatly. “Somehow he found out different. He’s probably mixed up with the same people who sent Matt to kill me.”
“Jesus! It’s my fault!” Vincent says. Carl knows better. He made a call of his own last night. He remembers the thick Russian accent on the other end telling him he would be dead by morning and he remembers Saffy’s screams. Who are these people? Katarina’s husband, Igor, must be behind this but he never had cops in his pocket. He must be big time now.
“It’s not all your fault, Vince. I might have…” Carl starts to say when the car jolts forward. Margo screams and Vincent sees the blue Sonata in the rearview mirror. It speeds up and rams them from behind again. His car swerves and Vincent tries to keep it on the road. “Damn it!” Carl yells. “Give me your revolver!” Margo fumbles Vincent’s gun from his holster and hands it to Carl. “We’re coming up to the bridge. Just beyond that is a side road. Take it!” Carl shields his face with his casted left arm and fires the revolver out the back windshield. It shatters and he empties the gun into the Sonata. It swerves into oncoming traffic, narrowly missing a silver Prius. They enter the bridge and the Sonata speeds up. Carl draws his Walther PPK and gets off one shot before the Sonata clips their left bumper. The Dodge spins out, crashing through the concrete railing of the bridge, and into the water below.
To be continued…